Norden Inside and Out: An Evaluation of a MOOC


This is an executive summary of a report which evaluates the trial MOOC ’The Nordics: Narratives and Practices of a Region’ (5 ETCS points) which is based on the University of Helsinki's Massive Open Online Course platform ( It has been coordinated from Helsinki University’s Centre for Nordic Studies (CENS) with funds from that University’s funding for MOOCs (digi-leap), but teachers from different institutions (CENS, the School of Communication and Culture at Aarhus University, Scandinavian Studies at the University of Gdansk, and the Department of International Economics, Government and Business at Copenhagen Business School) have created materials for the seven modules. Key to all partners is that interregional and international perspectives on the Nordics and individual Nordic countries can be an enriching teaching experience; students can see their national experiences in a comparative context and this can be personally challenging and pedagocially enriching. The course ran for seven weeks in autumn 2021 and 14 students completed the whole course (12 at Helsinki, 1 from Prague, and 1 from Gdansk), although around 100 more took particular modules.

Main points from the evaluation:

What did the students think of the course as a whole?

The majority said they would recommend this course to someone else, and the majority said that they could explain the material they learnt in class quite or extremely well.

Which activities were most effective?

Video lectures were considered the most useful, then materials on, followed by readings, individual assignments, quizzes, with Open Forum assignments being the least popular. (Open Form assignments required students to write approx. 250 words on a topic and post it on to the MOOC platform where they could interact with other students.)

What did students think about the layout and the technical side of the course?

The interface was simple and easy to follow. There were some technical difficulties, but these were ameliorated by quick assistance.

What did students think about the content of the course?

Students thought it was interdisciplinary, an interesting range of subject, and that the level and requirements varied quite a lot.

What did the students think about interaction with other students and teachers?

Many students did not interact with anyone at all & the consensus was that more and easier interaction would be desirable.

Did the students carry out the assignments to the required standard?

The level of study was generally adequate or higher than expected.

Conclusions and learning points going forward:

  • Courses of this nature are important as they connect individual departments (in this case Nordic Studies) with the international community not only via research, but also via teaching. However, collaboration in teaching, particularly across borders, takes time and requires more resources than normal teaching. It is preferable to have a central coordinator/point of contact who also has subject-based knowledge. Students and teachers alike considered that the coordinator role / a person on hand to answer questions about technical and other issues rapidly is crucial; it cannot just be left to be fully online.
  • It is difficult to make a ’one-size-fits-all’ course when requirements and semester dates vary across national boundaries, so a bank of materials to be used flexibly is to be encouraged - in addition to the course being run collectively. This is useful for e.g. pressurised university staff who can have the flexibility to replace a physical week of teaching with an online week in an existing course, should they need to.
  • Different students learn in different ways, so the use of different activities and materials can be recommended. Providing some of the reading in printed format may be preferable for learners who don’t like reading on screen or don’t have printing facilities. Video-lectures could be more lively or live.
  • As teachers came from different universities and the initial guidance/requirements of the MOOC were very loose, modules varied in difficulty and workload. This variation can be considered a positive characteristic of an interdisciplinary course with teachers from different countries/institutions, but student expectations should be managed through mentioning this at the start and/or providing clearer guidelines to the teachers.
  • Students really liked the fact that it brought many different perspectives to the same course. Further activities, such as a chat room just for students could be considered if the MOOC organisers would like to enhance cross-cultural communication and support less confident students. Similarly, if cross-cultural communication is to be enhanced, then the MOOC organisers should consider the practicality of group or pair work across national boundaries.

Selected quotations from students:

”It taught me how to organise myself, my time, my skills, my writing skills.” (exchange student, Helsinki University)

”It was nice to see there are so many different perspectives on how to study a region” (coordinator summing up research diaires)

”I know we are in a tech era, but talking with people online without seeing their faces, or knowing them, it’s a bit scary.” (exchange student, Aarhus University)


Thanks go to the students who took part in the trial and the evaluation, the coordinator of the MOOC, and Aarhus University’s Centre for Education Development for supporting this evaluation. Although the partners have worked together previously, the Excellence Hub in Research, Education and Public Outreach, Reimagining Norden in an Evolving World (Re­NEW) currently helps to facilitate cross-border networking.

A longer version of this evaluation is available on request, along with a copy of the online survey: